Highlight clips, clunky catchphrases and video “chalk talks” are likely not welcome on Rachel Nichols’ new sports program. “Unguarded” may represent CNN’s first stab at the genre in more than a decade, but the self-described “total adrenalin junkie” hopes the show broadens the notion of what the format can offer.
“Unguarded,” a new half-hour program set to debut on the Time Warner-owned outlet this Friday at 10:30 p.m., will feature a long form interview with a sports figure as well as a panel discussion that will bring in guests from the world of entertainment as well as sports, said Nichols. Look for a talk with LeBron James of the Miami Heat to kick off the series’ debut.
Nichols, who joined CNN’s parent, Time Warner’s Turner unit, in January to work for CNN as well as offer coverage for various Turner Sports broadcasts, expects the show to draw people from varied walks of life, not just die-hard sports buffs with a yen for stats and quick shots of the best plays of the evening. “I felt as if this is a line that isn’t necessarily being traveled on television,” she said. “This wasn’t necessarily happening consistently anywhere else.”
To be certain, the set-top box has its fair share of enterprising sports coverage, whether it be Bryant Gumbel’s program on HBO, a sports-oriented version of “60 Minutes” on Showtime, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” or even the recent “League of Denial” report on PBS’ “Frontline” about the risks of concussion to National Football League players. But a CNN sports program might pose a widely available selection for a decidedly general audience.
CNN has not run a regular sports show since the demise of “Sports Tonight,”a more traditional sports-news-of-the-day program. That show featured hosts including Nick Charles, and ran between 1980 and 2001 in the 11 p.m. slot. At one time, CNN Worldwide operated a sports-news cable network, CNN/SI – a mix of the cable-news outlet and its corporate sister, Sports Illustrated. The venture was shut down in 2002.
Nichols describes the launch of her program as an attempt to extend CNN’s programming base beyond politics and general news. Since the arrival of CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker earlier this year, she said, “CNN has really redefined what we want the network to be, what news should be, and part of that is being back in sports and entertainment and business.” Mercedes-Benz USA and United Airlines are the launch sponsors for “Unguarded.”
Nichols spent nine years at ESPN, working as a correspondent for programs including “SportsCenter,” “NFL Countdown,” and newsmagazine show “E:60.” She has also worked as a reporter for the Washington Post and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
At 10:30 p.m. on Fridays, Nichols’ “Unguarded” will be up against MSNBC’s new “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” as well as Fox News’ “Hannity” – three very different programs, to say the least.
Nichols said she hopes to line up more interviews with sports figures that tackle broader topics, not just game play. She has talked to Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant, for instance, about the challenges of using social media while living in a smaller town. In an interview that has already aired, she talked to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco about his decision to play a football game rather than be at his wife’s side for the delivery of their second child.
In a sign of CNN’s hopes for the program and the more comprehensive audience it might bring, there has even been some internal discussion about whether “Unguarded” should air on HLN as well as CNN, though a CNN spokeswoman said there are no immediate plans for Nichols’ program to air beyond the flagship, its airport network and CNN International.
“Unguarded” will likely appeal to “a broader fan,” said Nichols. “This isn’t an Xs-and-Os sort of show.”